Introduction to Measuring Employee Engagement
Employee engagement is a metric we’ve been tracking for decades. But engagement is a difficult metric because we don’t always agree on what it means.
Gallup defines an engaged worker as someone who is “involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” But how we measure that commitment and enthusiasm can differ. To some, engagement measures if your people are happy. Others define it as enthusiastic participation in events and work functions. And then some think of engagement as productivity.
Despite our obsession with employee engagement, we aren’t moving the needle. Is that because our focus is too singular and not representative of the whole employee experience? Or is it because we’re measuring the wrong things, which impacts where we invest our time, focus our strategies, and spend our money?
In this guide, I’ll share how we can shift how we measure employee engagement with a focus on how we are activating employees to take desired actions.
How to Measure Employee Engagement
The way we’ve been trying to measure engagement hasn’t been working. Rather than focusing solely on an employee’s attitude or enthusiasm about work, we should shift to thinking about what those employees’ behaviors are. What are they doing?
Instead of just trying to get employees to be in a state of being “engaged” we should be trying to “activate” employees to take specific actions.
So, how do we start measuring employee engagement?
Common ways to measure employee engagement include:
- Employee surveys (e.g. engagement surveys, pulse surveys)
- Content engagements (e.g. email opens, video views, app sessions)
- Focus groups
While these are great ways to collect data, it does not paint the whole picture. Many companies fall into the trap of measuring clicks, likes, and views and then stopping there. But these are vanity metrics on their own. They don’t measure what resulted from those initial actions.
That’s where measuring activation comes in. But more on that in a minute.
Key Employee Engagement Metrics
Employee engagement can be measured with several key metrics. By understanding and analyzing these metrics, you can gain a deeper understanding of employee sentiment and take action to improve engagement.
Here are some important metrics and indicators to consider:
- Employee satisfaction scores. Measuring employee satisfaction with surveys, interviews, or focus groups can help you gauge how satisfied employees are with various aspects of their work environment, including job satisfaction, work-life balance, compensation, and benefits.
- Turnover rates. High turnover can indicate low engagement. Tracking and analyzing turnover rates over time can help identify trends and issues that may be contributing to disengagement. It’s important to compare turnover rates across departments, teams, or demographic groups to identify areas of concern.
- Absenteeism. Frequent or unplanned absenteeism can be a sign of disengagement. Monitoring employee absence rates provides insights into underlying workplace issues.
- Productivity metrics. Assessing productivity levels and output metrics can indicate employee engagement. Higher engagement is often correlated with increased productivity and quality of work. Look for trends or changes in productivity metrics to identify shifts in engagement levels.
What is Employee Activation?
We define Employee Activation as employees taking the desired action as a result of a campaign or message.
And the key to activating your employees towards a specific result is to always start with the objective of each message you send. This goes beyond vanity metrics—like hoping 50% of employees open an email versus the 25% that opened the last one. Instead, you want to focus on the action within that email that you expect someone to take.
Marketers do this very well. On every message, they have a clear Call to Action (CTA) that they measure success against. For example:
- Sign up for our newsletter for free tips!
- Register Here
- Buy now and save $100!
And then marketing professionals measure how many people took that action. Of course, they care about opens and clicks too, but at the end of the day, success to a marketer hinges on someone signing up, registering for their event, making a purchase, etc. Because that’s the ultimate goal of their message.
Marketers then use their results to continuously test and change strategies to get more people to take the desired action.
Internal communications aren’t different. Every message we send has a desired effect. So, why are we so caught up in measuring clicks? Measuring employee engagement is far more complex than that.
Do, Say, Think, Feel
To be successful in measuring employee activation, you need to ground every message and campaign in SMART goals.
A model we find very helpful for shifting toward this way of thinking is the Do, Say, Think, Feel Approach. The idea here is that every message should result in employees doing, saying, thinking, or feeling something particular.
Watch this video to learn more about this method.
Changing Your Strategy When Measuring Employee Engagement
Moving your focus from engagement to activation might require you to change your communication strategy. And that makes sense. When you think about trying to activate an employee towards a certain action versus engaging that employee with your message, the approach is going to be different at the message and campaign level.
Here are a few strategies that we think help improve employee engagement and activation.
Leveraging Employee Influencers
Employee influencers are the people within your company who have sway over other employees. Sometimes they are leaders, but they don’t have to be. The real criteria here is that other employees look to them for advice and follow their lead.
Try to tap into these influencers to both learn from them and make them change champions who help encourage their peers to take action.
You can send messages all day long, but if the employees look around and don’t see anybody else acting upon what was just said, you’ve lost trust. You’ve lost momentum. And so, adjusting your approach to include targeted information to influencers, you may then see more employees taking the desired action in your communications.
Usually, when you send a message to employees, it’s not enough to include a little context and a CTA and then expect everyone to take action.
Whenever you want action to be taken, remember that you are asking them to change. To either do a new action or change an old habit. So, it’s helpful to consider change management best practices. Whether it’s a large-scale change or behavior you’re hoping to adjust (e.g. adopting a new work process or technology) or a micro change (e.g. taking a survey or enrolling in benefits), consider the Prosci ADKAR® Model.
- Step One: Awareness. First things first, communicate what’s going on. Be sure to include the context and the why.
- Step Two: Desire. What motivates your employees? Who motivates them? What concerns will they have? Answer these questions and find out how you can overcome push-back.
- Step Three & Four: Knowledge & Ability. Sometimes people don’t take action because they don’t have the tools or knowledge needed to feel confident doing so. Focus on educating employees on a course of action even if it seems obvious.
- Step Five: Reinforcement. Some people may take action immediately, no questions asked. But not everyone is like that. Keep reinforcing your message and take a page from Marketing’s playbook: test and learn.
Moving From Engagement to Activation Example
So, let’s walk through an example of how you might change your communications and approach to measurement to focus on activation rather than engagement.
The Situation: It’s time for employee open enrollment! HR comes to you with the particulars that year—the deadline and the new benefits offerings.
An Engagement Focus:
You schedule a cadence of messages and key deadlines for your team to create any educational materials and then you count message opens, clicks, and time spent on each message and report these data points back to HR.
An Activation Focus:
- Clarify HR’s goals. Are they hoping more employees enroll in a specific plan? Are they wanting to improve the percentage of employees who enroll on time? Who enrolled at all? Or are they really hoping to get ahead of the questions more so their team isn’t bogged down with questions and getting overtime?
- Identify key groups in the organization who will help support the message and drive action. In this case, maybe it’s HR Business partners on site, managers, and a few key influencers in each region. Can you do a focus group with these employees to give them some extra information? Can they help you understand the hangups that typically keep registration rates low or late?
- Try something new. Do you have a new channel to send this message through? Or is there a new medium you can send the message out as? Can you make enrollment fun? Embrace your inner marketer and try something that might not work—document the results and then try again!
- Measure continuously and not just at the end. Measuring activation is an active process. You want to be able to be agile and course-correct if your campaign isn’t going well. Check in with HR weekly to get the numbers based on whatever their goal is.
- Measure the right things. Keep an eye on those opens and what people are clicking on in your message. That gives you a sense of your reach. But simultaneously, measure those HR goals.
The Link Between Employee Engagement and Performance
There is a strong correlation between employee engagement and business performance. Numerous studies have shown that highly engaged employees contribute to improved business outcomes and overall success.
Here are some key points to consider:
- Increased productivity. Engaged employees are more motivated and committed to their work, resulting in higher productivity levels.
- Enhanced customer satisfaction. Engaged employees are more likely to provide excellent customer service, leading to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Reduced turnover and absenteeism. High employee engagement is associated with lower turnover rates and decreased absenteeism. Engaged employees are more likely to stay with the organization, reducing recruitment and training costs. They also have a stronger sense of commitment, leading to lower rates of absenteeism.
- Innovation and creativity. Engaged employees feel safe to share their ideas and opinions, leading to increased innovation and creativity. They are more likely to contribute innovative solutions and improvements to processes, products, and services.
Ongoing Monitoring for Continuous Improvement
Measuring employee engagement is not a one-time activity but a continuous process that requires ongoing monitoring and continuous improvement.
Here are some strategies to consider:
- Regular Check-ins. Check in with employees regularly to gather honest feedback. These can be informal conversations or structured feedback sessions. The goal is to maintain an open line of communication and address any concerns or issues promptly.
- Pulse surveys. Conducting pulse surveys regularly allows you to gather real-time feedback on specific topics or initiatives. These short surveys provide quick insights into employee perceptions and allow for timely interventions or adjustments.
- Feedback mechanisms. Establish feedback mechanisms such as suggestion boxes, online platforms, or anonymous surveys to encourage employees to share their thoughts and ideas. Actively listen to employee feedback and take action on their suggestions whenever you can.
Overcoming Challenges in Measuring Worker Engagement
Measuring employee engagement comes with its own set of challenges. Here are some common challenges and how to overcome them.
- Survey fatigue. Employees may experience survey fatigue if they are frequently asked to participate in surveys and never see any action taken as a result of their feedback. To overcome this, make sure you share the results of every survey and create an action plan. Be sure to explain why you are addressing certain feedback and not others.
- Low response rates. Low response rates on your employee engagement survey can lead to biased or incomplete data. To increase response rates, communicate the purpose and benefits of the survey, assure confidentiality, and provide incentives for participation.
- Survey bias. Ensure your surveys are designed in a way that minimizes bias. Use a combination of open-ended and close-ended questions to gather both qualitative and quantitative data. Analyze data from different demographic groups to identify potential biases and address them accordingly. We also recommend having someone else look at your survey to share a different perspective.
- Interpreting complex data. Employee engagement data can be complex and multifaceted. To effectively interpret the data, consider seeking assistance from data analysts or HR professionals experienced in interpreting employee engagement data.
What’s In It For You?
When you’re putting together communications plans with activation and results as a focus, you present yourself as a strategic partner within your company versus just being the writer, the editor, and the email sender.
You become the strategic communicator within the business that knows how, when, and why to deliver messages in a certain way to achieve business results. And that’s a big shift for a lot of people within their organizations.
Today, many communicators may have departments coming to them at the last minute and asking for a message to be sent out ASAP. But when you position yourself as a strategic advisor, you can take a step back and say: Why send it then? What happens if I don’t send it today and I wait until our regular cadence? Is this the right message that is optimized to get employees to act?
By adopting this new approach, you show stakeholders that it’s not just about the delivery of the message. It’s about the results.